This Song Will Save Your Life
Macmillan Children’s Books
Read from my TBR pile
Elise Dembowski has never been popular. She’s been an outsider, a person on the fringe looking in for as long as she can remember. Several times she has tried to reinvent herself – new clothes, new hairstyle. But it never works. Her fellow students can always see through it and they realise she’s the same person underneath, the same person that they have no interest in having anything to do with.
After another attempt to reinvent herself when she starts high school fails, Elise almost gives up entirely. She spends her nights walking the neighbourhoods of her mother’s house and her father’s apartment, unable to wind down enough to get to sleep. Whilst out walking one night, Elise runs into college students Vicky and Pippa who assume she is looking for Start, a secret nightclub that takes over a warehouse every Thursday night. Elise finds herself going along with Vicky and Pippa and checking it out even though she’s obviously underage. She finds that there she can be a different person and that Vicky and Pippa have no idea about how she’s a total outcast at her high school. They accept her and introduce her to Pippa’s obsession – Char, Start’s charismatic DJ.
There Elise finds her passion. After helping Char out one night and taking over for a few minutes, he begins to give her some lessons and a regular half hour slot on Thursdays. Elise is sneaking out every week to go to Start and her family are none the wiser. However, even though she loves Start and loves that she has found somewhere that she can belong, her school life is becoming more and more difficult to navigate.
Secrets cannot be kept forever. And when her school life begins to trickle into her Start life, Elise feels like her haven is threatened. As she gets the opportunity of a lifetime, everything begins to unravel and she may have to watch her big chance slip away.
So this book has already received lots of love from many US YA bloggers and when I read Jen’s review over at Pop! Goes The Reader I knew I’d be buying it. I ordered it but because it had to come from overseas and so I was away when it arrived. I couldn’t wait to dive in when I got home and because it’s pretty short I knew I could easily slot it in quickly, despite the ginormous pile of review books!
This book takes me back 14 or 15 years to when I was in high school. I was never ostracised so completely like Elise was but there were times when I had disagreements with friends and you feel as though people will take sides and everyone might be against you. It’s one of the best portrayals of high school life, the awkwardness, the isolation and loneliness that I’ve read in recent times. Elise’s misery is so well written, so clearly defined. The bullying she faces is subtle in many ways: she is mostly left alone by the school population. She has no real friends as such and often spends her lunches either in the library or in the maths classroom with a teacher. There are students who do go out of their way to make her life difficult but for the most part, Elise is invisible. A no one. She shuffles around school as if in a bubble.
Although her divorced parents both love her and she appears to have a good relationship with both, it seems that her home life also mimics her school life in some ways. She shuffles backwards and forwards between the two houses – her music rocker father is still single and tours with his band, who had a hit in the 70s and still coasting on that. Her mother has remarried again and has two more younger children and although Elise gets on well with them and also with her stepfather, it’s quite clear that her part-time participation in both lives does have an affect. This is made obvious when Elise does something to her younger sister’s project in an attempt to help her eccentric younger sister see that she needs to fit in and her stepfather reiterates several times that right now, he doesn’t want Elise around “his children” despite the fact that he has been her stepfather since she was five or six. For me, this is a cruel blow, especially to someone who has such fragile self-esteem and who faces constant rejection every day. Also, this is never really addressed adequately by the book, which is I feel, its only failing. It was such a big remark to say to a stepchild that it should’ve been resolved within the story. Instead it is not mentioned again.
Apart from that, the rest of this story is a beautifully and sensitively written homage to music and how it can help you find yourself, your courage and strength. And that outside of high school, the world is completely different. For a teenager, high school is the be all and end all of their lives but there is so much more out there to experience and by the time you realise that, it’s too late to use it to help your high school years normally. I liked that Elise found acceptance and recognition from college students, who didn’t care about her background or whether or not she really had the right hairstyle although they did help her go shopping – but because she wanted to, not because they wanted her to change. Vicky was an awesome character (as was Mel, the bouncer at Start) and I really enjoyed the way everything with Char played out. It was a pleasant surprise and definitely kept this book from sliding into territory that may have been predictable.
This Song Will Save Your Life is definitely a keeper and I’m looking forward to more from Leila Sales.
Book #295 of 2013